Showdown at the OK Corral


Lance and Bruce are out for the evening in their new cowboy outfits. To the OK Corral to listen to a friend sing. They are greeted at the door by two men. One tall and thin, the other a dwarf who stands only to the thin man’s hip. The dwarf is muscular with an over-sized head and thick, powerful thighs and forearms.

“Check your weapons at the door,” the thin man says.

“We are unarmed,” says Lance.

The thin man reaches over and lifts Lance’s left arm.

“We are without weapons,” Lance says, laughing.

“They all say that,” says the thin man. “Frisk them Shorty.”

The dwarf frisks Lance from the waist down, stopping to fondle Lance’s new Lucchese boots. Beautifully ornate. Works of art. The dwarf moves to Bruce’s lower torso. Bruce wears matching boots which the dwarf again lovingly inspects.

“I think the appropriate term is Little People,” Lance says to the thin man.

The dwarf produces an I.D. which identifies him as Shorty. Thin man lifts Shorty to chest height. The little man frisks Lance from his hoisted position, then Bruce. From Bruce’s vest Shorty retrieves two Montecristo cigars.

“For later,” Lance says.

“Yes. Thank you,” says the thin man.

Bruce, ever the pacifist, looks over at Lance and shakes his head. Let it pass, they’re just cigars, he is indicating.

“What’s your name?’” Lance asks the thin man trying to establish cordial terms.

“Slim.”

“You certainly are the literal type.”

“No. I don’t read much.”

“Is Kitty here?”

“Cats not allowed.”

“Dogs, though,” clarifies Shorty.

“Kitty, the singer.”

“Oh. The lady singer.”

“I think her name is Molly,” Shorty says.

“Yes. Kitty is her stage name,” Lance says.

“Yeah. She’s her,” says Slim.

Customers, mostly men, sit at tables in groups playing cards and smoking. Lance and Bruce take the only empty table, far away from the stage. A middle-aged woman with a large, high riding chest comes over to them.

“Whatcha drinking?” the chest asks.

“Sarsaparilla,” Lance says jokingly.

The chest leaves and returns with two glasses and a bottle of Rot Gut Whiskey. It says so on the label.

‘That’ll be twenty dollars.”

Before Lance can protest, Bruce gives him the look and a shake of his head. Lance produces the twenty.

Bruce feels something at his feet. He looks down. Shorty has crawled under the table and is kneading his boots. Bruce kicks at him. Shorty crawls out and slinks sheepishly away.

Two men in cowboy hats, yoke shirts and a deck of playing cards take a seat at their table. The one with the cards and a huge mustache places the cards on the table.

“What’s your game?” the mustaches asks. “Five card? Seven card? Texas hold-‘em?”

“Canasta, I’m afraid,” Lance says.

“So. Your with the show?” says the man without the mustache. He mimics the playing of canastas, opening and closing his hands in the air.

“No. The card game,” Lance says to the men. “This is a nice place,” he continues, trying to repair his reputation.

“It’s OK,” says mustache cowboy.  “The pace down the road is better.”

“What’s it called?”

“The Better Saloon.”

Mustache man grabs the bottle of Rot Gut. Puts it to his mouth and takes a long swallow. Sets the bottle back on the table. Collects his cards, rises and leaves. The other man is still pretending to play canastas.

The lights dim. Kitty comes on stage with a man who sits at an old upright piano. The playing and singing begin. Peggy Lee’s Is That All There Is? 

After the song, Lance and Bruce applaud enthusiastically. The card cowboys turn and stare. They do not share their appreciation. Lance and Bruce take hard swallows of the Rot Gut which makes their eyes tear but gradually settles their nerves.

Slim and Shorty stroll by the table smoking aromatic cigars.

Kitty does a few more numbers to no greater effect. She is replaced by an old guy with a guitar. The old guy sings a song, that neither Lance nor Bruce have heard before, about pick-up trucks and rain and mama being run over by a train. The card cowboys are hooting and hollering and singing along.

Kitty has joined Lance and Bruce at their table. She is clearly distraught. She finishes the bottle of “sarsaparilla” and orders another one. The men try to compliment Kitty on her performance but she will have none of it.

The card cowboys are getting rowdy. Bottles clink. Some fall to the floor. The saloon is filled with tobacco smoke and loud cursing. A fight breaks out over a poker game but is quickly quelled. The mustache cowboy comes to the table and pulls Kitty roughly to her feet, trying to dance while drunk to a tune never meant for dancing. Lance rises to her defense but Bruce grabs him by the arm and gives him the look and the head shake.

Soon enough Kitty is back at the table. Her hair partially unpiled from her head. Her lipstick smeared. The front of her dress soaked and stinking from a spilled bottle of Rot Gut.

Kitty, Lance and Bruce stagger to Bruce’s car. Bruce is in stocking feet. They climb into the car and start the engine.

Shorty is waving bye from the front of the OK Corral. The top of the boots ride to the dwarf’s crotch, engulfing the entirety of his short, stocky legs.

 

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Categories: Uncategorized

Light and Heat: A Play


Act One

A dark apartment. Feeble light bleeds through the door from the apartment building hallway. Nate enters first, Claudia close at his back. He flips the nearest light switch. Darkness prevails.

Nate: Fuck!

Claudia: What?

Nate: The light.

Claudia: What light?

Nate fumbles along the wall, nearly tripping over the leg of a chair, to the next light switch. Claudia remains in the doorway. He flips the switch. 

Darkness prevails.

Nate: God-damnit to fucking hell.

Claudia: What?

Nate: Come help me.

Pause.

Nate: Come help me open the drapes.

He extends his hand to Claudia, guiding her into the room. They move carefully toward three street-side windows covered with heavy draperies. They pull open the drapes one by one, tying them aside with sashes. The room gradually lightens as they sash, illuminated by the moon and street lamps.

Nate: There. That’s better.

Claudia: It’s cold.

Nate: The heat. Light and heat go together.

Claudia: Heat and light. Did you pay the bill?

Nate: I think so.

Claudia: When?

Nate: I don’t remember.

Claudia: We’ll freeze.

Nate: It’s not all that cold, you know.

Nate’s voice is distant. From the kitchen. Clinking of glassware. He returns carrying a bottle and two glasses. Sets the glasses on a table. Uncorks the wine. Pours.

Nate: Here. This will help.

Nate hands Claudia a glass. Sits beside her on the sofa. Claudia sips.

Claudia: It’s sour.

Nate: It’s not more than a few days old. Drink it anyway.

They drink, emptying the bottle.

Nate: I’ll make some tea.

Running of water. Noise from the kitchen. Banging of teapot. Nate returns without tea.

Nate: Fuck.

Claudia: Heat and light.

Nate: Light and heat. Let’s go to bed.

Claudia: It’s too early. I’m not sleepy.

Nate: To get warm under the electric blanket.

Claudia: Heat and light. Light and heat.

Nate: Fuck.

Under the covers in the dark bedroom.

Claudia: My sleeping bag.

Nate: What?

Claudia takes a bulky sleeping bag out of the closet. Unzips its perimeter. Spreads it over the bed. Climbs back in.

Claudia: See? That’s better.

Their heads disappear under the cover. Shifting and squirming. A large hillock forms under the covers. The hillock begins to undulate rhythmically. Female cries of passion. The lump dissolves.

Claudia: (muffled) That was nice.

Nate: (muffled) Wasn’t it now!

Curtain

Act Two

Sitting in a pub. Brushing snow from their coats and hair. A puddle is forming at the foot of their bar stools from the melting snow. The pub is warm. It is very early. There is no one else, other than the bartender, in the pub.

Nate: Did you sleep well?

Claudia: Until I had to pee.

Bartender: You two are up early.

Claudia: Heat and light.

The bartender looks at Claudia in confusion.

Bartender: What’ll you have?

Nate (looking at Claudia): You have money?

Claudia: Not much.

Nate takes money from his pockets. Places bills and coins on the bar. Claudia rummages through her purse and does the same. Bills and coins. Meanwhile, a customer comes into the pub. Takes a seat at the other end of the bar. The bartender moves away to serve him. Nate separates the money into distinct piles. 

Nate: Not a lot here but it will buy us a few pints.

Claudia: Can’t we just sit and warm for a bit first.

Nate: If we don’t order he’ll throw us out. If we order too much he’ll throw us out. What the world’s come to.

Claudia: Same as it ever was.

The bartender returns. Looks at the piles of bills and coins.

Nate: Two lagers please.

Claudia: I’d rather a stout.

Nate: Okay. Two stouts then.

The bartender looks at the bundled, dripping couple and, again, the small piles of money.

Bartender: The stout is a little more than the lager.

Nate: One stout and one lager then.

The bartender serves the beers. Picks from the money. Smiles and walks back to the other customer. Claudia takes a gulp of the stout.

Nate: Drink it slowly.

Claudia: When are you turning the heat back on?

Nate shrugs. They sit for a while wordlessly drinking. They watch the snow through the window, illuminated by the streetlamp. Big flakes like cotton balls or feathers. They order another round. A few more customers have entered. Claudia is sleepy in the warmth, marinated in the stout. The pile of money on the bar dwindles slowly.

Claudia: We should get something to eat.

Nate: Eggs! Eggs are cheap.

They order eggs and toast without the bacon and fried potatoes after negotiating with the bartender. When he delivers the breakfasts the plates have bacon and hash browns.

Bartender: The cook didn’t read the ticket. I’m still charging you the same as without the bacon and hash.

Claudia: Thanks.

Claudia and Nate ravenously engage the meal.

Nate: Should we go to your mother’s?

Claudia: Donna. Her name is Donna. You’ve never even met her.

Nate: Now would be as good a time as ever.

Claudia: We can’t just barge in unannounced.

Nate: Why not? You’re family. Family has to take family in, it’s the rule in a civilized society.

Claudia: But you’re not. (Pause) Family.

Nate looks hurt. Orders more pints. The bartender collects the dishes, scraped clean.

Claudia (while looking at the puny money remaining on the bar): Okay.

Nate: Okay what?

Claudia: We’ll go to Mom’s. Go get the car.

Nate leaves. Claudia drinks her pint. The other men at the bar ogle her. Nate  returns covered in snow. Sits heavily.

Nate: It’s gone.

Claudia: What’s gone?

Nate: The car.

Claudia: Stolen.

Nate: I don’t think so.

Claudia: Did you make the payment?

Nate: I think so.

Claudia: When?

Nate: I don’t remember.

Pause

Nate: We’ll walk.

Claudia: It’s far.

Nate: Let’s get started.

Curtain

Act Three

Seated at a kitchen table are Claudia, her mother Donna and Nate, drinking coffee. Nate sits to the left of Claudia, to the right of Donna. Midway between the two women. North and south in equal measure, distance and age,  from each of them.

Donna: Is anyone hungry?

Nate: I wouldn’t mind.

Donna: I can make sandwiches.

Claudia: Thanks Mom.

Donna puts her cigarette in the ashtray, rises and goes to the refrigerator. She takes out lunchmeat, cheese and a jar of Miracle Whip. At the counter beside a microwave oven with the door hanging open she assembles sandwiches.

Nate: (with sandwich in front of him and looking at a half full bottle of cheap wine on the counter) Do have anything to drink?

Claudia gives Nate a harsh look. Donna rises, fetches the wine bottle and water glasses. Pours.

Nate: Thank you. Do you mind? (Pointing to the cigarette pack and matches on the table. Donna pushes the items to him as she draws a puff.)

Nate smokes and drinks and takes a bite of the sandwich.

Nate: The bread is stale.

Donna: Don’t eat it.

Nate: The sandwich?

Donna: The bread.

Nate takes the meat and cheese from between the slices of  bread and crams all into his mouth. Licks the Miracle Whip from his fingers. Claudia looks on in disgust. Donna watches with awe.

Donna: So, what do you do Nate?

Nate: When?

Donna: For a living.

Nate: Speculation.

Donna: What’s that?

Nate: Buying and selling.

Donna: Buying and selling what?

Nate: This and that. Anything and everything.

Donna: You’re a grifter and a womanizer, I think.

Nate: That too.

Long Pause

The light in the room fades. The trio sit speechless for a while. Cigarette butts have piled up in the astray. Two empty bottles of wine sit in the middle of the table.

Donna: I’m going to bed early. Claudia will sleep with me. You’ll (pointing to Nate) sleep on the couch.

Nate: Why can’t I sleep in the bed too?

Claudia looks at Nate in horror. Donna ignores him and rises to go to the bedroom.

Claudia: I’ll get a blanket and pillow for you.

Darkness for some time. 

Nate can feel her presence hovering above him. The stale smell of cigarettes. She flicks on the table lamp, bends and nudges his shoulder. He pretends to sleep. She nudges harder. He opens his eyes, looks at her. She opens her house-coat. He lifts the blanket. She crawls on top of him.

Long Pause.

Morning. Claudia stands beside Nate on the couch, clad only in panties.

Claudia: Get up. She wants you gone.

Nate: Who?

Claudia: Mother. She wants you gone.

Nate: Where will we go?

Claudia: I’m staying. I need heat and light. And a hot shower. By the smell of you, you could use one too.

Nate lifts his arms and sniffs at both pits.

Nate: You’re turning me out.

Claudia: Mother is.

Claudia looks to her mother’s bedroom. Turns back. Nate raises the covers. Claudia climbs in on top of him. The blanket undulates rhythmically. A female squeal of pleasure muted under the covers.

Nate dresses. Pulls on his long coat. Walks to the kitchen, opens the cabinet where the wine is stored. Puts a bottle into the coat’s deep pocket. Walks away. Stops. Walks back to the table. Picks up the pack of cigarettes and matches. Puts them in his other pocket. Opens the door prepared to step outside.

Claudia: I’ll call you.

Nate: Phone’s out. Light and heat.

Nate slams the door behind him.

Curtain

Act Four

In the Pub with a new girl. They drink pints of stout. Sharing fish and chips. Nate dumps more malt vinegar on the fish and potatoes. He swallows hard after a long drink of  ale.

Nate: Speculating.

Girl looks at him without speaking.

Nate: You know. Buying and selling. This and that. You asked what I did. Speculating.

Nate holds up his empty pint.

Nate: Another round?

The girl goes into her purse for more money.

Nate: I’m writing a novel, you know.

Girl: Really? What’s it about?

Nate: A man and his adventures. The usual stuff of literature, you know. The man has secrets that women want to learn about. It’s rather sexual, I’m afraid.

Girl: What kind of secrets?

Nate: Ah! You’ll have to read the book. Can’t give away the ending, you know.

Girl: I’d love to read it.

Nate: When it’s finished.

Girl: I’ll read along. Maybe I can help.

Nate: No can do. You can critique the first draft but only after it’s done. I hate having someone read over my shoulder when I’m writing. Destroys the creative spirit, you know.

Girl: I’m sorry. But when it’s done…

Nate: What’s done?

Girl: The book.

Nate: Ah. Right. The book. Then you can read it. When it’s done.

Nate holds his empty glass for examination. The girl’s pint is nearly full.

Girl: Oh. Right.

The girl takes more money from her purse.

Nate: Thanks. The advance you know. The advance for the book. It should arrive  in a few days.

Girl: I  thought the check was from an invention, or something.

Nate: Oh that. The urea collection service and the products there-from. Tooth whitener. Skin creams for eczema and what-not. Fertilizer. Batteries charged. I told you about this?

Girl: A little. Hours ago. When we first met. I didn’t understand it.

Nate: Just as well. Keep it under your bonnet. Wouldn’t want news out…. prematurely.

Pause. They drink.

Nate: Do you like music?

Girl: Yes. Very much.

Nate: Classical? Jazz? Blues?

Girl: (Giggles) Afraid not. Rock and Roll. Show tunes. Some country.

Nate: Maybe you know my younger brother, Telford.

Girl: Croft? The Bangers? My yes. They’re playing next week at the Near North Elk’s Lodge I think.

Nate: You haven’t slept with him, have you?

Girl: Slept with who?

Nate: My brother.

Girl: That’s hell of a thing to ask. Of course not. I know of your brother but I don’t know him.

Nate: I see. Just making sure. Pause. Ever listen to Erik Satie?

Girl: Who’s that?

Nate: French composer. Debussy contemporary. He’s long dead, of course. Satie’s Gymnopedie and Gnossienne. Haunting works.

The girl looks into Nate’s eyes.

Girl: I’m afraid I…

Nate: Have you read Sartre? Wittgenstein?

The girl looks into her pint glass.

Nate: Philosophers. Ah. Not a big deal. One can’t know everything. I can help, you know.

Girl: Would you like another pint?

Nate: Yes, please. The advance, you know. Soon. Pause. Any day now.

Girl: You said you lived nearby.

Nate: Down Rubicon Avenue a bit. Toward Washington Park.

Girl: We could go listen to…

Nate: Satie? I’m afraid not. No heat or light. A life style choice until the novel is finished. An aid to my concentration and creativity.

Girl: No heat or lights? No utilities then.

Nate: Uh… not in the traditional sense.

Girl: We could go to my place but I’m afraid I have no, no…

Nate: Satie? That’s alright. We can talk instead. It’s fascinating to talk to you, you know.

The girl blushes. Nate holds up his pint glass. 

Nate: We could have a couple of more pints though. Before we go. Right?

The girl nods.

Curtain

 

 

Nate: Your mother, right? I’ve

 

Categories: Uncategorized

The House Sitter


Robert would be overseas for six months or more, depending on how well the project progressed and whether any follow-up work would result. He’d asked his old friend Evan, knowing his availability, to look after his flat on the second floor of a 19th century Italianate building in the heart of the city’s old immigrant district.

Robert considered Evan his equal in talent and intelligence but, perhaps due to differences in drive and perseverance, their fortunes had diverged significantly. Evan was reeling from his third failed marriage and the most recent of countless lost employments. Evan landed on his feet after each disaster but age was catching up with him and his friend of long standing feared for his mental health.

The flat was owned outright and the cost of the heat from the aging but hardy boiler in the building’s basement was allocated among the four flat owners through an annual assessment which wouldn’t come due again during Robert’s tenure abroad. There was no air-conditioning in Robert’s unit. He didn’t believe in air conditioning with the fervor of a sweaty evangelist. There was also no television or telephone. Domestic entertainment came from an ancient stereo system with a turntable, an impressive vinyl collection and an equally robust library of classic and modern fiction and history housed in what was meant to be a second bedroom.

Robert’s Luddite tendencies had been discussed. Evan playfully countered Robert’s contention that most consumer technologies were wasteful, expensive and unnatural things by pointing out that everything about modern man’s milieu from clothing to breakfast cereal was unnatural from that perspective. They had a good laugh but the hot reality of lack of air conditioning and pre-paid heat meant very low monthly utility bills. Evan’s major expenses would be food, drink and whatever he needed in the way of socializing to sustain himself. The walkable neighborhood provided everything one might need save an occasional escape from urbanity which some needed, others not.

Robert had passed the keys and a slip of paper with his overseas contact information to Evan after an introduction to Mrs. Shapiro who lived in the first floor flat and served, ostensibly, as the building’s manager. Mrs Shapiro eyed Evan suspiciously as he clutched the valise containing his meagre wardrobe. Evan who liked to imagine how people, who were getting up in years, may have looked during their flowering couldn’t get a fix on Mrs. Shapiro. She looked as if she had always been and would forever be her sixty something year old persona. He couldn’t imagine being sixty. Or forty four, which would be his next birthday.

During his surveillance of the flat he subconsciously took note of the considerable height of the ceiling and the chandelier hanging from the main room. He noticed a chair which, if positioned beneath the chandelier, provided the appropriate drop if kicked away. And he noticed the stove conveniently powered by natural gas.

During his first week of inhabitance, Evan had laundered his clothes, including the pair of jeans containing the scribbled slip of paper Robert had passed to him on his arrival. He supposed Mrs. Shapiro had the missing information but he would wait to ask for it until he felt it was needed. Anyway, he would have to phone from her unit as they had previously discussed. He would wait because the information was not yet needed and because he found Mrs. Shapiro terrifying.

The flat was not lavish but well appointed and Evan settled in without much difficulty. Rising early he had coffee, juice and a buttered English muffin. He’d read or listen to music or both until lunch when he would dine at the inexpensive cafe nearby where a plate of pasta and a glass of wine could be had for not much more than the cost of the raw materials needed to prepare the meal himself. After lunch he would wander the roughly six block neighborhood. He began to embrace life in an eco-system that, as New Yorkers and Parisians know for example, exists as a series of small villages that make the larger city irrelevant and unnecessary. Indeed, as he had been told, he found everything he needed within a short distance and had become acquainted with a few of the locals although he had tight social boundaries as a result of his paucity of funds and his injured and wary spirit.

On his walk to the cafe, jay-walking across Rubicon Avenue which ran one-way and had few traffic lights allowing the vehicles to gain a considerable head of steam, he would note that a poorly timed step from the curb, whether by accident or design, would….

The flat, which seemed familiar from the first day, quickly became as much a friend to Evan as Robert. Like any true friendship, the flat and he seemed to enjoy one another’s company without the need for mutual acknowledgements and reassurances. Of particular enjoyment was the library. Four walls of floor to ceiling bookshelves that could not hold the entirety of the collection. When Evan wasn’t repositioning and climbing the ladder to examine the upper reaches he was digging through the boxes that obliterated fully half of the floor space. The library allowed for the sparsest of furnishings. A writing table with a single chair. Evan had to clear the books stacked on the table to restore its intended purpose. A worn leather sofa accompanied by a floor lamp. The sofa was, in many ways more inviting than the bed which he found a bit too firm. He spent many nights on the sofa, the slope of the arms provided precisely the correct position for prone reading whereas the four poster required a stacking of pillows that refused to remain in position.

He was on the sofa, lounging in his boxer shorts, the coverlet pulled to his collarbone with the floor lamp positioned perfectly, when he heard the key in the door. He was reading James Purdy’s Malcolm.

Evan didn’t panic, didn’t scramble for his trousers. Rather he lay quietly, book in hand, considering the possibilities. Could Robert have returned without advanced notice? An unfortunate event, it would be, since it might spell the end of Evan’s tenure in the flat. Or could it, God forbid, be Mrs. Shapiro?

It was neither. She entered carrying a small overnight bag like the one Grace Kelly used in Rear Window. 

“Hello,” she said without the faintest hint of being startled. Evan retuned her greeting, standing before her in his boxers.

Her name was Alice. She was a friend of Robert’s, a former lover who had retained a key. She knew of Robert’s extended absence and had decided to take advantage of the opportunity without knowledge of the arrangement with Evan. She did not apologize or offer to leave.

Evan, considered Robert somewhat effeminate but had never questioned his sexuality, had never delved into the nature of his longstanding relationship with the man but wondered now whether the rights of a former lover might trump the rights of a mere friend no matter the duration of their friendship. He refused to consider the advantages that the practice of homosexuality would have conferred on him in advance of this dilemma.

Alice spent considerable time in the bathroom, looking relieved and refreshed when she emerged. Evan said, “So. You mean to spend the night.” Alice merely nodded.

Evan settled back onto the sofa thinking there was nothing more to say at such a late hour, assuming Alice could find her way to the bed of which she was, presumably, all too familiar.

In the morning, after another lengthy session in the bathroom, Alice padded about barefoot with wet hair. Evan offered Alice a buttered English muffin. She helped herself to juice and coffee. They talked about Robert. Alice confessed that their relationship had been sexual but not really intimate, a condition that Evan could understand. They had been close enough to result in her key which she had copied without his knowledge. Evan found Alice’s candor surprising and oddly reassuring. He knew he should visit Mrs. Shapiro for Robert’s number. He should phone him to inform him of the turn of events and ask Robert to vouchsafe for his guest but he was not entirely displeased by the company and there was, of course, the issue of interaction with Mrs. Shapiro. His only request of Alice, at the appropriate moment, would be that she provide her own English muffins.

During his turns in the bathroom, Evan noticed, since he had walked away from his former home without a shaving kit, that Robert used an electric shaver, hypocritically contradicting his views on technology. A straight razor would have delivered a better shave with other potential uses thrown into the bargain, Evan thought.

Evan had begun to wonder, in the final days of his first month of residence in the flat, about the lack of communication from Robert. Most likely he was busy with his work but his lack of curiosity regarding goings-on in his home was curious, at best.

During a frank discussion with Alice, as they shared a cheap bottle of Chianti, Evan offered details about his distressed circumstances having already heard about Alice’s own travails. He told her about his weakness for beautiful women with character flaws or a lack of intelligence which he didn’t suppose was all that uncommon but the insight made it no easier to break ingrained habits. He and Alice formed a pact under the old theory that two can live as cheaply as one, agreeing to pool whatever resources they had or might gain in the future. This was an arrangement considerably superior to the one he had recently left in his marriage.

Alice was at a considerable advantage since women, in contrast to men, especially if the woman is, like Alice, young and attractive even though, in the case of Alice, not particularly stunning. Women can always can rely on the generosity of men especially if they grant them certain benefits. Evan would not assume Alice’s modus operandi, nor ask of such matters or consider it any of his business so long as it didn’t affect him.

It wasn’t long before Alice began arriving at the flat late in the evening, tipsy, with “friends”. The friends were male or female or both or of ambiguous gender. The gathering would disrupt Evan’s reading or music but offered the booze and food they invariably brought with them. Evan got accustomed to these soirees and since they were mostly on Friday or Saturday evening he could plan for and even gratefully anticipate the events.

One Friday afternoon, Alice informed Evan that she wouldn’t be returning to the flat until the following morning having been invited to a party that would run into the wee hours. Evan was disappointed but took the opportunity to get his first sleep in the bed for quite some time.

Stumbling through the door and through the series of rooms, for the flat was without proper hallways, Alice tumbled, stinking of booze and cigarettes, into the bed alongside Evan. He was unsure if she was aware of his presence but she draped a thin arm around his waist and snuggled into his back. He was unsure what this meant, if anything, given her condition.

In the morning, Evan quit the bed before Alice had awakened and sat at the breakfast table with coffee, contemplating the night before. He had never considered, let alone attempted, a romantic advance on Alice but the smell of her, corrupted though it was by a layer of party residue, had inspired desires that had been extinguished by his  recent humiliations. He thought about Alice’s warmth on his backside and how it had left a sort of glow. When she arose she smiled in a different way than the day before and, for the first time, pecked his cheek with a kiss before eating her muffin voraciously which suggested the lack of a proper meal the evening before. She relayed her tale of the party where she had intended to sleep off her drink until the host made it clear that the fare was sharing his bed, driving her back to where she now believed she belonged.

On the next next night, as Evan rested comfortably on the sofa with a copy of The Master and Margarita, Alice came to him from the bathroom, stark naked and cool and damp to the touch. She extended her hand and led him to bed.

After months still with no word from Robert while deftly dodging Mrs. Shapiro, Evan felt that in some occurrence his stay in the flat would soon surely come to an end.

On a late afternoon Evan returned to the flat with two bottles of wine and a hunk of cheese, an extravagance intended to please Alice. She wasn’t there. Neither was her overnight bag, her purse or other personal belongings. There was no trace of the woman. In the middle of the night he opened and drank both bottles of wine and ate enough of the cheese for both of them.

For the next several days, Evan visited their regular haunts – the cafe, a bar called The Rook, and even Washington Park though the pleasant gazebo and benches where they had sat and read or talked were seasonally cold and unpopulated except by bums which he imagined he was coming to resemble. Alice was nowhere to be found. He took to asking the regulars about her and when they said they had no recollection or hadn’t seen the woman he described in affectionate details he became increasingly despondent. After a while he settled into a hermit like existence, staring at the door, waiting for the turn of a key. He began to wonder if Alice had ever existed at all.

In desperation, Evan consulted Mrs. Shapiro to ask for Robert’s number in hopes that he might be able to shed light on Alice and her disappearance. She stared at him curiously. Mrs. Shapiro had no number.

Mrs. Shapiro had smelled the seeping gas, entered the flat with her master key, turned off the stove and bent over the man, breathing into him a foulness of corned beef, sauerkraut and rotting teeth. Evan’s mouth hungrily engaged hers thinking the woman of his dreams had returned.

 

Categories: Uncategorized

The Profundity of Breakfast on a Cold, Soft, Early Morning


What impresses him most is the softness of her hair. He knows it is soft even though he has never touched it and, likely, never will.

He can see that it is soft.

He understands the flexibility and mutability of the senses. The way some people can, purportedly, hear or smell the color yellow, for example.

The young woman with the soft hair laughs at something her friend has said. He wishes he could touch her laughter. Hold her laughter in his hands and fondle it. Put her laughter in his mouth and taste it. Chewable laughter. Swallowable laughter. Digestible laughter. Would poop laughter be reduced to a series of giggles?

On this sunny but raw December morning he could smell the cold the moment he opened his door.

He does not doubt that there are kind monsters, who love despite their innate nature, and evil saints whose generosity and good deeds serve primarily their own purposes.

The world is not as we believe, as we have been told and taught by parents and teachers wielding false authority. There is more space than substance. Time, despite signs of aging and degradation, is an illusion. Whatever time is, it travels in many directions and at different speeds. This is something he has learned to believe, from experience.

His thoughts fell heavy on the sidewalk, to be trod upon or kicked aside by those who will follow, as he walked the short block for his breakfast with coffee where he found the young woman with hair that smells and sounds soft.

The things that we think will keep us alive will kill us and voice versa. The cheeseburger. The alcohol. Sex. Adventure. Curiosity. Love. Security. Flip them, turn them over, roll them around. Front is back. Top is bottom. To embrace or deny our deepest desires has exactly the same end result but with different milestones along the way.

She. The other one whose hair is also soft is still asleep in the bed and does not know of or may not agree with any of these notions. He would have liked to crawl into her dreams during the night were the hatch not battened. Maybe he was already there. A greater or lesser version of himself that he might never encounter or find suitable if he did.

She sleeps and cannot hear the soft voices of the eggs and bacon sitting before him. Perhaps she has already risen and found his note which contains both an offer and an apology. She may be thinking of the  night before and the night before that and on and on to the beginning depending on her memory and imagination and her ability not to conflate the two.

Each decision establishes the next one and erases possible others. He could finish his breakfast, walk out the door, head down the street in the opposite directions never to return to this place or to her but the sheer weight of previous decisions makes that almost impossible.

The young woman in the cafe with the howling soft hair is aware. He knows she is aware even before she brushes a soft lock from her forehead, from her soft, brown eyes. She talks and looks at her friend but he knows she is watching. When he sips his coffee, she sips hers. An unconscious mimic. She may or may not be interested in him but he knows she is aware and curious. She tries to read the title of the book he had set aside when his meal arrived.

The door opens. She enters. Sleep remains in her eyes. She always looks and smells and sounds and feels and tastes soft when she has first awakened. She smiles and takes a seat beside him, turns to him and kisses him on the cheek. She takes a piece of his bacon off the plate and puts it in her mouth.

He smiles and sips his coffee.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Mirror Interviews the Author


 

– How did I get broken? The mirror asks.

– I threw a shot glass at you. Don’t you remember?

– Oh yeah. Things are a bit fuzzy today. We tied one on last night didn’t we?

– We did.

– That’s seven years bad luck you know.

– How many times have I broken you?

  • I get your point.

Pause

– When did you start writing?

– As soon as I could wield a pencil. Maybe before. I have always written a lot in my head.

– It gets lost that way, doesn’t it?

– Yeah. A lot. It usually comes back later though but not necessarily in exactly the same form.

– Your first story?

– In grade school.

– What was it about?

– A frog in love.

– ……….?

– Pond. Lily pads. Croaking. Etc. I knew nothing about the mechanics of sex at the time but I knew something was going on down there that I liked and it needed words to describe whatever it was. The eroticism was pure and untainted. I couldn’t write it today. I’ve already had a bite of the apple, you know.

– I’d say you’ve worked your way through the orchard.

– Judgmental are we?

– No. Not at all. I’m just saying you write a lot about women and sex and booze.

– I like all of those things.

– To a fault one might argue.

  • There’s no need for argument.

– I agree. That’s how I get broken.

– Anyway, what else are you going to live for? Houses? Cars? Okay. I’ll grant you things like travel and literature are nice. Things beautiful and warm and kind and, at least, real if not warm and kind. But those are experiences instead of things, totally unlike cars. More like women and sex and booze.

– Booze is a thing.

– No, it isn’t. Not really. Unless you’re foolish enough to treat it like one.

Pause Nate takes a drink.

– The substance, the liquid in the bottle, is irrelevant. Unless you’re a collector. Most collectors are anal-retentive idiots. I once new a guy who had a Scotch library. Shelves and shelves of Scotch. Old. Rare. Some from mothballed distilleries where no more was bing produced. If he drank it up it would be gone forever. Irreplaceable. But if he didn’t drink it, what did it matter that he owned it at all. As an investment? To sell when it was more scarce and more valuable but he was perhaps in worse condition to enjoy it? For mere money? What kind of life is that? See the conundrum?

– I do, I suppose. What happened?

– To what?

– To the collector. The Scotch collector.

– Oh. Right. Don’t know. Dead I’m sure. It was long ago and he wasn’t young when I knew him. Hopefully he drank the Scotch. But I doubt it.

– Pardon me, will you. I need to refresh my drink.

Pause

  • Where were we?
  • Back to sex. What was your first sexual experience.
  • That’s easy. Nate takes a gulp from the glass. Liquid dribbles down his chin. He wipes it with the back of his hand. Looks at the man in the mirror, trying to recognize him. Need to always know to whom you are speaking. – Grade school again. Second grade? Who knows. Anyway there was a swing set on the playground. Fewer swings than kids. When the bell rang we’d all race for a seat. Sometimes I’d get one. Sometimes not. If not, I’d treat the swing as kind of monkey bars. Shimmy up a supporting pole. Hang from the top. Back down on the pole, to the ground. Up and down. Up and down.

Pause. Nate takes a drink.

  • How was that sexual?
  • Hold on. I wasn’t finished. At one slide down the pole moment I felt something good. Back up the pole. Down the pole. Best recess ever. Back into the classroom probably with my eyes crossed. I guess a mirror wouldn’t understand any of this. It’s a physical thing. There’s nothing we can do about it.
  • Wow!
  • That’s probably when I wrote the frog story. And discovered Rebecca.
  • Who was Rebecca?
  • Little girl I used to chase around the playground and kiss if I caught her. I almost always did.
  • What about Gina? What are you going to do with Gina?
  • What do you mean?
  • When are you going to strop chasing her around the playground and kissing her? When are you going to offer her your seat on the swing-set? When are you going to push her high in the air just to hear her laugh?
  • When are you going to shut the fuck up?
  • It’s my job to ask the questions. Remember? Because you never will.

Nate’s glass is empty again. He looks into the mirror at the man holding the glass. Watches as he hurls it and the glass shatters.

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Under the Full Moon


In a three room apartment above a camera store specializing in vintage film camera sales and repairs, Timofei jiggles the file cabinet drawer. Locked. He uses the small crowbar that had popped the front door lock. He bursts open the file cabinet drawer. Small metal fragments bounce and clang off the hardwood floor.

“Wait! The keys. On the desk. You don’t need to…,” Wiz says, nodding toward the desk and the ring of keys, from the chair in which he is seated, bound.

“Shut up!”, Vasily says, slapping Wiz hard with the back of a surgical-gloved hand which prevents leaving finger prints. Spittle flies from Wiz’s mouth.

Timofei looks at the ring of keys, at Vasily who says nothing but smiles maliciously, and pops another drawer. And another. And another.

“I told you it’s not here. Michael has it,” Wiz says with a mouth full of mush. Jaw swollen to chipmunk proportions.

“And we said to shut up,” says The Mustache from the far corner of the room, without looking around, as he tears open boxes and clears shelves. Cameras and parts fly across the room. Vasily hits Wiz again, harder, on the opposite jaw. Wiz whimpers. Tears in his eyes.

###

The Mustache stands beside Wiz, Timofei and Vasily (who never talks), holding a Canon AE-1, debris strewn behind him. Click, click. click goes the shutter but there is no film in the camera. He lets the camera drop from his hand, the 50mm lens cracks when it hits the floor. “There’s nothing here,” The Mustache says. Wiz wants to, but dares not, say, “I told you so.”

“Hey! Look what I find,” shouts Timofei, digging through the file cabinet. “The little kike’s personal stash.” He rakes keys and papers from the desk and lays down four 8X10 color photos.

“A rump ranger. A tail gunner. Our boy is a peter puffer,” The Mustache says with a smirk, detectable despite the enormous bush obscuring his mouth. He pats Wiz on the shoulder.

“You want we to ride you hard before we kill you?” asks Timofei slapping the crowbar against his palm.

“Like the big buck in the picture?” adds The Mustache, “Is this your boyfriend Wiz?” The Mustache holds one of the glossies for display. “Untie him and bend him over the desk.”

Palms on desk, pants and underwear pulled down to his ankles, Wiz sobs. The thugs play with their belt buckles. Pretending. Wiz trembles. Urine trickles down his left leg.

“Now we know why they call you Wiz,” The Mustache jokes. The other men guffaw. “Let’s get out of here. One peep out of you, you little pervert, and we’ll come back and finish the job. We’ll shove this crowbar so far up your ass… Are you listening?” Wiz nods, his forehead nearly touching the desktop.

Timofei steps forward and whacks Wiz’s ass with the crowbar. A red welt appears instantly on snow-white cheeks.

“We’ll be back, sweetheart,” The Mustache says, pinching Wiz’s bruised jaw, Wiz winces but does not cry out. The thugs laugh and jostle one another and collectively blow Wiz kisses. They exit.

Alone in the makeshift office of his small apartment above Wiz’s Camera Shop, Bernie Wizniewski, Proprietor, stands frozen at his desk, tears blotting the pictures of men engaged in unnatural acts. The trickle of urine has become a torrent.

Pissing and bawling and quivering in his soaked shoes.

###

After Wiz collects and cleans himself, he sits with ice in a sandwich bag applied to the most damaged of his two jaws. His tongue nudging a sore, wobbly molar. The taste of iron.

“I’d like to kill Michael,” he is thinking, “for putting me in this situation.” First of all everybody told Michael to keep his hands off Lori’s little girl Cinda. Twenty years old or so but everybody still thinks of Cinda as a little girl because she has the mind of one. And Michael, so much older but, with no better judgement. You could talk Cinda into anything. It was shot with an old Super-8 camera that Michael and borrowed from Wiz. Wiz developed the film and transferred it to disk. It is shocking. Barely 10 minutes but more than enough to excite you or turn your stomach depending on your disposition.

According to Michael, only the three of them, Wiz, Cinda and himself, have first hand experience with the movie but its existence has, somehow, become well rumored. Surely Michael isn’t stupid enough to have bragged about it. Actually, Wiz wouldn’t put it past Cinda to talk. She’s the kind of girl who might take pride in such a thing. Such a very dangerous thing.

The political operatives want it for the damage it can do to Lori’s campaign, the mob for the blackmail money it can generate. Money and politics, two things as unseemly as what is on the disk. Nobody will believe there is only one copy, per Michael’s instructions. Well, two if you count the original film that is also in Michael’s possession. Wiz could have surreptitiously made himself a copy but it does not exactly cater to his tastes and he thought that not having a copy was better for his health. Now he’s not sure.

But there is one person who wants it more than anyone else, more than the mob, more than Lori’s political opponents, more than Lori herself. Cinda’s uncle Lars. Tic.  

###

Tic crawled along the jungle floor through puddles of water as warm and viscous as the piss and blood running down his thigh. Rifle cradled in his arms like a newborn he inched to and propped his elbows up on a corpse as inconsequential as a log. He’d stopped smelling the stench of death long ago. 

He took aim at the Gook sharply silhouetted against the bright full moon. The Gook turned as Tic squeezed off a single shot, ripping off the better portion of the face. 

In real life or rather real death, the Gook collapses immediately but in the nightmare he walks toward Tic. Concave hamburger face. A featureless, mobile, mocking, animated corpse.

Bolt upright in bed, drenched in sweat, eyes wide with horror. The pillowcase and sheet are damp. Tic’s heart races wildly. He reaches for the rifle that isn’t there.

A recurring nightmare that never loses its effect like a movie you watch over and over even though you know how it ends.

Tic’s squadron was pinned, relentlessly shelled. The blast to the forward guard blew a soldier into two distinct halves. The trunk, arms and head lay a few feet from the hips and legs, the right foot twitching in a final death spasm. Corpse eyes alert and confused seemed to stare at his disconnected bottom half.

Can you be dead before you know it? Is Tic among the living dead? These are questions he asks himself.

In the days of execution by guillotine, the executioner would grasp the executed’s severed head by the hair, lifting it from the basket to stare into still alive eyes. The executioner’s face would be the dead’s last sight.What does a decapitated head think and feel at the final moment? Sorrow? Remorse? Hatred? Mere resignation? Confusion like the onset of a stroke? Does it see the faces of loved ones? All of these imagined emotions and experiences seem as tepid as jungle water, Tic thinks. There must be more to it. There has to be.

Tic quits the bed in sweaty boxer shorts and sleeveless t-shirt. In the bathroom he drinks a full glass of water poured as cold as it will pour. In his hand the pills from the medicine cabinet that calm the anxiety, stop the nightmares, prevent the hallucinations but render him numb. Uncomfortably numb. He puts the bottle back on the shelf behind the hinged mirror. Splashes his face with water. Dresses in jeans and boots and the leather jacket with the star shaped studs. He leaves the cabin and rides off on his Harley. It is 3:12 a.m.

###

The service road off to the right of the highway is gated. The lock has been broken for months. Teenagers enter through the gate, up the rise, into the edge of the forest to drink, smoke weed and fuck. A section of the public nature preserve has been sold off to private logging interests. The government says it’s a budget balancing necessity. Timber harvesting will begin in a few months. The locals are not happy.

Tic rides the Harley to the top of the mount. Pulls it around a big fir tree that will someday soon be coffee tables or bar stools. He looks down the slope opposite the highway. Through the trees and brush he can see the bright light in the parking area behind Michael’s house. Cinda’s Toyota isn’t there but that doesn’t mean she isn’t.

Tic had turned off the Harley lights when he entered the access road. He had a flashlight in the saddlebag but left it there, carefully scaling down the hillside under the bright light of the moon. He pauses when he reaches the railroad tracks. Looks down the tracks in the direction where the train will arrive in an hour or so. The freight train schedule is not precise. The route was on the verge of being decommissioned until the timber company came along and promised it new life.

Tic must be careful. Up the road, just a bit, lives a police-woman who knows him well and who wouldn’t at all care for, or be surprised by, his house calling and interrogation methods.

He is armed with only a Bowie hunting knife that he has with him always. Tic uses the Bowie to deftly spring the back door lock.

Tic finds Michael asleep in bed. Alone. A wave of relief washes over him.

In less than an hour Tic is scaling the rise back to the Harley with a video disk in his jacket pocket. The wind is treating the trees rudely. Clouds shun the moon. It has begun to rain. A storm is on the rise.

###

Jeanine was awakened by the train’s commotion. Trumpeting like an angry, wounded elephant. Something is wrong. Despite the early hour and grim weather it is her duty to investigate. She rouses Spence who now understands the downside of falling in love with an officer of the law.

The gale turns their umbrella inside out. They abandon it and struggle forward, unprotected, for a considerable distance, to the scene of the accident. They find a distraught train engineer and Jeanine’s neighbor, Michael… sliced cleanly in half at the pelvis by steel on steel. Detective Dexter and other officials will soon arrive.

###

Tic places the video disk on the kitchen table. He’ll deal with it later. Rumor has it there were several men involved. Another rumor says a large dog is the star of the show. Tic will not watch his Niece’s defilement. He has seen all that and more, live and in person, in a place far, far away where he was sent against his will and greeted without welcome.

He takes one of the numbing pills from the medicine cabinet hoping for sleep away from combat. Later he will go to The Lemon Grass, in the alley near The Delirious Dissident Bookstore, to see his beloved Kim-Ly. He will talk to her in her native language while he eats his favorite noodle dish. He will tip her extravagantly which she finally accepts after much patience and prodding. She keeps the money in an ornate box in her room upstairs where she lives with her family. He will tell her that he will soon take her away from all the corruption and violence and depravity. And after the months patience and prodding, she will smile.

But will not laugh.

Categories: Uncategorized

Reunion with Pookie


They would pass in the hallway or in the cafeteria. She would smile, acknowledging him without actually looking his way. Furtive. Holding secrets of which he could only guess. After she had passed she would slow her gait ever so slightly knowing that he had turned and stood rock-still to follow her movement. He would watch her walk the way certain women walk, not exactly wiggling but undulating, like a body of water. A tiny but unfathomable ocean.

They found themselves together on a Committee charged with formulating a minor policy. Empowerment it was called. Participative management. Throw the dogs a bone. The farce mattered not to Audrey or Duncan, what mattered was the opportunity to look at each other for more than a few seconds on official company time. Sanctioned desire. They couldn’t keep their eyes from one another.

It was Audrey who first asked him to lunch. Not to the company cafeteria but to Baci, the Italian cafe down the street, where they could grab a table in the corner and begin their negotiations. Still a topic of gossip but away from the blue, flickering, unflattering glare of fluorescent office lights. Duncan wasn’t generally meek and retiring in the face of a pretty woman but the sight of Audrey left him dumbstruck, in a state of sensory overload, stopped up with unspoken and unspeakable words.

He had courted her during the Committee meetings with eloquent logic served up obliquely like a racquetball champion playing a corner, bouncing the messages off the Committee Team Leader. Audrey would return his volley with complementary, supportive statements and her devastating furtive smile.

Lunches were fruitful even though Baci had quadrupled Duncan’s daily lunch budget. Duncan refused to allow Audrey to pay her share. They went to the movies where they sat stiffly in the glow and watched each other out of the corner of their eyes. They were careful in the beginning, fearing they might break something fragile. Then dinner with the Pedroncellis, Audrey’s parents and her younger sister Anna who was perhaps prettier than Audrey but much less interesting. The family lived in the Italian section of the old, Near-North neighborhood. Her mother served salad and an enormous bowl of spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread and Chianti. Duncan’s appetite brought him to the edge of impropriety. He had to take deep breaths. Study the faces of the small dark family. Allow them to catch up. Audrey and Duncan sat next to one another and she boldly squeezed his thigh with her small hand hidden under the table after he had said something witty. It sent a flutter through his groin. A caged bird was fighting confinement in his pants. After dinner the family settled into the living room with the television but Audrey wanted to take a walk in the cold December air where she kissed Duncan under a lamppost. Illuminated specks of snow floating in the air like stage props. He sucked in the warmth of her wet mouth while the frigid tip of her nose pressed against his cheek.

A few nights after the family dinner, he found himself at Audrey’s apartment near campus where she attended acting classes. Audrey shared the space with another young student who had conveniently excused herself for the evening. After a meal of take-out Chinese they grappled on the sofa and though Duncan managed to undress Audrey from the waist down he was not allowed to penetrate her since he had neglected to purchase a condom. She was without protection, a situation that Duncan had not considered conceivable. As an alternative, he spread her thin legs wide and with her cheeks on the edge of the sofa, drank as deeply as he could from his knees, feeling her convulsions. Looking up to find her eyes glazed and seeping. She whimpered and thread her fingers through his hair in a manner so frantic that it made him wonder.

###

It was these two moments, the wet kiss in the cold under the lamppost and young Audrey’s orgasmic tears while he took his pleasure between her legs, that seized his mind as he read her words over and over and over. Many, many years later.

###

The email on the social media site weeks ago, had read, “Audrey Miller wants to be friends with you.” Audrey Miller. Miller. He didn’t know an Audrey Miller. He had moved on to the dozens of other emails in his inbox.

###

This new communication comes through his business website in the comments section.

Hi Dunner,

This is Pookie. Remember me? We worked together at Consolidated. I tried to friend you. How you’re doing?

Pookie (Audrey Pedroncelli-Miller)

 He responds, using their pet names, though he knows not what to say.

Hi Pookie,

Remember you? Are you kidding?

Dunner

 

Duncan learns that Pookie has been divorced for over a decade, has an adult son working as an Engineer (she attaches a picture of a handsome young man with a complexion the color of coffee with cream). Pookie is between jobs, has recently had her house foreclosed and is living in a studio apartment in a small mid-western city. This information bursts forth, all at once, like water through a breached dam. Not a plea for help, that wouldn’t be Pookie’s style he knows, but rather like filings from a reporter at a disaster scene. Her picture shows an attractive, smiling woman in her middle forties without a sign of her current distress. He tries to assemble the jagged and incongruent pieces into a cohesive whole. She appears to be aging well and he wonders how she will react to his photo. Safely dry docked though he is, he knows he exhibits the rubbed-away effects of life’s constant friction.

He tells Pookie that he and Marsha are amicably divorced and leaves it at that, thinking the less he says about Marsha the better. The same Marsha who was astraddle Duncan and riding him hard to the finish line on that fateful Sunday afternoon when Pookie burst through the door.

A young man with more sense would have chosen a different fate. Would have married the beautiful young Audrey, procreated with her. Lived happily ever after. When Duncan met Pookie he was still frantically sowing wild oats, each field looking more fertile than the last though he had no appetite for the actual harvest. Within weeks of the betrayal Pookie had taken up with another man, a black man, the Manager of the Fulfillment Department at Consolidated. Though all of the fault lay within his sphere he was disgusted enough not to fight to win her back. Within a year Pookie was married. Duncan was transferred out of state, Marsha followed him and their respective destinies unfolded like the inevitable change of seasons.

###

Duncan sits where he can watch the airport concourse. The monitor say Flight 507 is on time. Duncan studies his watch and orders another beer. He needs to steel his nerves. In his best suit and tie instead of his usual sport coat and Dockers.

He has finished his second beer. Figures he shouldn’t have another, though he wants one. He had seen but dismissed the bleached blonde, dragging the black bag on wheels. Short and dumpy, not exactly obese but heavier than her frame should carry, wearing a cheap polyester two-piece outfit (flower print blouse and clashing striped skirt) a size too small. Audrey had easily picked Duncan out of the lineup at the airport bar. She sits down heavily beside him. He looks into her soft brown eyes and kisses the perfect lips as offered. It is Audrey all right, the same light in her eyes, the same delicate wrists. Audrey is in there, but in costume, like the amateur actress Duncan watched with pride in the community theater productions. She was good, said people who should know, and pretty enough to play the lead. She had a strong voice, lithe figure and expressive face but her ambition never measured up to her talent. Duncan hadn’t exactly bolstered her self confidence with his humiliating shenanigans.

Looking at the Audrey of today, Duncan sees her mother cradling the giant bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.

“I need a drink,” Audrey says.

Duncan orders beers and watches Audrey drink lustily, studies her gut bulging over the waistline of her skirt, the dark roots of her hair at the part. Her chipped fingernail polish. She had to remember how much he hates nail polish. Conversation lags after the initial pleasantries and he repeats in his mind, it’s only for a few days.

As they walk to his car, Duncan chivalrously dragging her bag behind him, she asks, “Do you mind if I smoke during the drive?”

“I’d rather you didn’t,” he says. They stand outside the car in the glaring sun while she sucks hard on a menthol light.

He settles her into the guest room.

Audrey takes a shower while Duncan tries to distract himself with paperwork brought home from the office.

They share a bottle of wine in the kitchen, Audrey out-drinking him by a wide margin. Duncan is relieved that the alcohol is making the conversation easier. He feels reconnected to the bright, funny girl he once knew. They go to dinner at a Mexican restaurant nearby, where they have chips and salsa and chicken fajitas and margaritas they don’t need. When they get home Duncan pulls vinyl records out of a milk crate. Plays their favorite old songs while Audrey silently weeps. He can’t help but think that this act of nostalgia has a touch of cruelty.

They drink more, talk about the old days, cry together and go to bed together. Duncan puts his face between Audrey’s thighs, closes his eyes. Tries not to think about the past, where she has been and what she has done and with whom. He doesn’t look up, knowing that if there are tears they are of a different nature this time.

###

As a man who primarily eats in restaurants, Duncan is aware of the paucity of his refrigerator and pantry. A few eggs, butter, milk past its prime, cottage cheese, Tabasco, Italian dressing, a jar of sauerkraut, left over split pea soup that should already have found its way down the disposal, cereal, cans of beans and Campbell’s soup. A disappointing meal in any possible combination.

They go to the grocery store. Push a cart down each and every aisle. Duncan tells Audrey to load up with whatever she wants which turns out to include soft drinks, Cheez-its, toll-house cookies, orange Hostess cream filled cupcakes and other figure warping indulgences.

After they get home and put the groceries away, Audrey offers to clean up the condo in exchange for his largesse even though the place is tidy enough and his cleaning lady will be in tomorrow. Duncan follows her from room to room trying to help rather than merely observe. While she changes the bed, Duncan dusts the bedroom table that holds a television, a clock radio and a small cedar box that he reacts to as if it materialized for the first time at this very moment. He opens the box holding his wedding ring, which he hadn’t known how to, or had the courage to, dispose of, an expired passport, cufflinks, two pair of ear-rings and a bracelet abandoned by Marsha and a Rolex watch she had given him on their first anniversary. Duncan never much cared for the ostentatious watch. It was heavy and dominant. Duncan goes to the kitchen and takes a sandwich bag from a drawer. He places the wedding ring, earrings and bracelet in the zip lock bag. He feels the heft of the Rolex in his palm.

“That’s a nice watch. Why don’t you wear it?” Audrey asks.

“It’s complicated.”

“You don’t know how to work it?”

“A different kind of complicated.”

Duncan places the Rolex back in the box.

“I’ll be back in a bit,” he says.

“Where are you going?”

“To run an errand. I won’t be long.”

Duncan takes the baggie to West Side Pawn where he knows the guy well enough to get a fair price. He returns with a little over $400. Letting go of more of Marsha felt good. He hands Audrey the money knowing she needs it desperately. She had confessed to borrowing the airfare from a friend. and arriving virtually penniless. As a loan, he says, until she’s back on her feet. She sits crying on the edge of the bed holding the money in her fingers with the chipped nail polish.

Duncan’s stomach roils at the pathetic sight.

###

After a day of working late, Duncan returns home to find Audrey on the sofa, dressed only in panties and bra, watching a reality television show. Tired and frustrated, he snaps at her.

“How can you watch that crap?”

“I like it.”

“How can you like it? It’s stupid.”

“Why? Because you don’t like it? I’m supposed to like everything you like? Why aren’t you supposed to like everything I like? How come it only goes one way?”

Duncan has no response. As soon as he goes to the kitchen to scrounge dinner, Audrey changes the channel.

She says she isn’t hungry but eats anyway.

###

The next day they talk and drink in his condo after a meal Audrey has prepared featuring an over cooked pork tenderloin, under cooked potatoes and mushy brussel sprouts. They drink beer and shots of Jameson whiskey as they come to terms with who they are, where they have been and where the hell they are now.

“I hated you, you know,” she says.

“I know and you had a right. Have you come to punish me?”

“I’m too busy punishing myself.”

“For what?”

“My failure, I guess. Failing further is punishment for my past failure.”

“Failure at what?”

“Not being good enough. Not good enough as an actress. Not good enough for my parents. Not good enough for you. Not good enough for Martin. You should have gone for Anna. She was the prettier one.”

“I thought about it. You know how I was then.”

“I know. And so did Anna. And thanks for the honesty. Why didn’t you do it?”

“Because I loved you. During that brief period we had together. You and your cold nose under the lamppost.”

Audrey smiles but says, “You loved me so much that you decided to fuck Marsha in front of me.”

“That wasn’t intentional. I shouldn’t have given you a key.”

“You would have fucked her key or no key. Without the key I just wouldn’t have known. You think that’s better?”Audrey stares at him, her face pinched.

“Yes.” Duncan laughs at his own honesty. “Had you not known everything might have turned out quite differently. More as I had intended.”

“What you intended isn’t relevant.”

“Fucking Marsha and loving you had nothing to do with one another. They were completely unrelated issues.”

“But you couldn’t apply the same moral code to me, could you?”

“You mean him? Are you talking about him?”

“Martin. The black man. The handsome, successful black man. I knew it would drive you crazy. That’s why I did it. That didn’t turn out as intended either.”

“What do you mean?”

“I thought you might change. React in a different way. That we could try again but while I was waiting for you I fell in love with him. He was a good man. A good husband. But I ended up driving him away.”

“Pookie, why did you come here?”

“For the show.”

Too much alcohol washes the conversation away, Audrey wants to have sex but Duncan says he can’t on account of he’s too drunk. A harmless lie, he reasons. Audrey takes a shower before bed. Duncan has a fancy shower without a tub. Shower-head as big as a dinner plate. It sprays water in your chosen configuration. Audrey likes the pulsating setting.

He hears her fall. Finds her on the shower floor with her legs splayed, head bowed as if in prayer. Like she decided this was the perfect time and place to take a nap. She has vomited and the chunks clog the little holes in the drain. The water is quickly rising. Duncan finds himself on his hands and knees, fully dressed, pummeled by the pulsating rain storm, trying to mash the puke chunks down the drain as Audrey awakens, crying. The smell brings up Duncan’s own bitter bile. He adds his own pork, potatoes and brussel sprouts to the stew.

###

Two days before Audrey is to leave. Duncan must fly to Milwaukee to solve a problem, in person, with a client. He apologizes to Audrey for cutting into their time together but, frankly, he is relieved. She will drive him to the airport and leave the car for him the next day when boards her own flight.

###

Duncan doesn’t find the car in the agreed upon place. Pookie’s cell phone is out of service. Exasperated, he hails a cab.

His car is not at the condo. Just as he decides to alert the authorities, he hears the garage door open. He greets a tipsy Audrey. The Audi has a big crease along the driver’s side.

“It wasn’t my fault,” she says.

“You weren’t cited?”

“Are you crazy? Call the cops and risk a D.U.I.?”

“So, you hit and ran?”

“No one was hurt.”

“Why are you still here?”

“Changed my flight.”

“Why?”

“There is nothing to go back to”, she says.

Duncan is furious. He lets Audrey have it with both barrels. Her irresponsible behavior. Her slovenliness. His overall disgust. During the tirade Audrey is silent. They pass a bottle of Scotch back and forth in an oddly civilized ritual during his monologue.

When the bottle and Duncan are almost empty Pookie steps toward him. Slaps him as hard as she can. Stunned and red-cheeked, Duncan can only stare at her in disbelief. She hits him again, this time with a closed fist. Duncan wraps his arms around her in self defense as she squirms and bucks. They fall to the floor.

Their mouths meet. Disparate passions meld. What has happened, now and in the past, has happened and nothing can be done about it. What remains is love long suppressed, given up for dead. Now unleashed by acts of violence, verbal and physical.

During their sexual release, a sex of wild self abandonment, Duncan understands that he still loves Pookie despite what she, and he, has become.

It doesn’t matter. When he rises from his sleep, she is gone.

###

Audrey’s departure leaves Duncan in a state between remorse and relief. She has abandoned her cheap clothes, travel bag, cigarettes, dead cell phone and a theatre magazine in the guest room. And a little more than $400 in cash.

Duncan tries to contact Pookie but his emails kick back. Her phone number is disconnected. he never had a postal address. She has disappeared without a trace.

A week passes. He donates her belongings, except for the theatre magazine, to the local Goodwill store. He puts the magazine on the coffee table.

###

Duncan regretted losing interest in the theatre after he and Pookie parted. The magazine on the coffee table is a recent edition. He flips through it absently as he sips Scotch after a long and unproductive day. An interview catches his eye.

Interviewer: With me today is Audrey Miller. Welcome to Stage Left Audrey.

Audrey: Thanks Susan. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Interviewer: We haven’t talked since Typographical Terror. Did you enjoy the role of Amanda?

Audrey: Very much so. Murder mysteries are fun in and of themselves but especially so when the hard boiled detective is cast as a woman. 

Interviewer: Let’s talk about The Wanderer, set to open in the spring. April 4th, I believe, at The Imperial.

Audrey: That’s correct.

Interviewer: A middle aged woman, Norma, is cut adrift by a series of tragic events. Norma is a chain-smoking, overweight alcoholic. She doesn’t see a viable future so she tries to lock onto something from her past to keep her afloat. That something is a long ago failed relationship. A lost love. She can’t resuscitate the romance but learns enough about herself in the process to begin again. What about the part appealed to you?

Audrey: I could relate to it. As you grow older you realize that you’re like a fossil. “laughter” Time wears the fragile, soft part of you away but replaces it with other, harder substances. Also the challenge appealed to me. It’s a very challenging role for a woman who is used to playing romantic leads. I’m a little frightened if you must know but I have to adapt to what’s being offered to me these days.

Interviewer: You’re known for taking great pains to get into character. Obsessively so, I’m to believe. What are you doing to become Norma?

Audrey: First of all I’m not a chain-smoker or an alcoholic but I can fake those things. I’m also not fat so I’m working hard to put on weight. It’s not as easy as letting your hair grow. On stage it’s hard to fake being over-weight. There are no good special effects. Besides, I think to think like a fat woman you need to live in a fat woman’s body.

Interviewer: Audrey, I’m afraid you’re a purist. “laughter” You don’t look particularly chubby. You’re running out of time to fatten up. Are you going to make it?

Audrey: Of course I will. I just worry about taking the weight back off after the run of the play. I might get used to milk shakes and Twinkies. “laughter” Harder than even the weight is adopting the attitude. How to be convincingly angry and bitter and lost. But I know I have it in me. 

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